When I (a Teacher) Kissed (Another) Teacher: Oberlin Professors on Love

ZOE JASPER // MARCH 8, 2019 

It’s time for another Oberlin faculty couple to let us into their private lives. This issue, I had the pleasure of talking with Holly Handman-Lopez from the dance department and Tom Lopez from the TIMARA department.


So how did you folks meet, and how long have you been together?


Holly Handman-Lopez: We met sixteen years ago when the dance department brought me as a guest for three weeks.  Some colleagues in the department introduced us my first day on campus, and I thought, “He’s so smart and kind...and not my type.” Ha! I was very taken with him by the time I left three weeks later; we stayed in touch, found a way to work on a project together later that year, and have been together ever since!


Tom Lopez: We met when it was cold and snowy. I threw snowballs at her and we wrestled in snowdrifts. One of our first dates was in the dark because a severe winter storm knocked out the electrical grid; we still celebrate a nuit blanche every year.  We also survived a long-distance relationship because I was teaching here in Oberlin while Holly was dancing professionally in NYC. On weekends, she would hop on a bus heading west, I would start driving east, and we would meet at random motels in the middle of Pennsylvania. One of them had a bar with a dance floor and pole (if you find that bar you might see a framed picture of us on the pole).


What is it like working with your partner?


H: The BEST! Originally, he had to help me find my way into his music, as it is more complex than many of the pieces I’d worked with during my years in NYC, but he’s super creative and patient, so we’ve made some cool work together. This past semester we taught a two-course StudiOC cluster, and that was really amazing. I knew he’d be very thorough and prepared, but he was also incredibly sweet with the students in a way I hadn’t anticipated. It was also nice to have the prep and class time together as we can both get so busy that it’s challenging to find enough “us” time.


T: One of our first projects together involved connecting Holly to medical sensors while she danced so I could use the data from her heart rate, breath rate, muscle activity, etc. to control video and audio in real-time.  She didn’t know this at the time, but it was actually an elaborate ruse to outfit her with a lie detector test - she performed truthfully! Collaborating on creative projects revealed our deeper selves to each other; after that, raising children together has been easy.


What do you think is the hardest or worst part about the college dating scene?


H: The “fishbowl,” as we used to call it in my day. Having an audience on every move can be excruciating, especially for a private person.


T: Back in my student days here [the ’80’s], there was a lot of anxiety because HIV/AIDS was beginning to explode. There was very little information and very few medical options back then - it was stressful. Also, I had a hard time remembering the handkerchief code, I kept sending mixed signals. I still use them, but nobody seems to get it. I was totally oblivious to another issue that I only recognized in hindsight: my naive experience in high school left me seeking dates with someone who was "smart, funny, and attractive.” Yup.  I had no idea that other people in college (just like the real world) had a whole host of other motives for seeking dates; for sex, for love, for status, in search of a life partner, to resolve parent issues, and so on. Wait, what?


If you could give one piece of relationship advice to Oberlin students, what would it be?


H: Be yourself! You’ll never be comfortable or happy trying to be the person you think someone else wants. And don’t forget to shower.

T: OK, this will be dorky and preachy, but what the hell... Everyone has lines they will not cross.  Know where yours are and honor them. Also, I think everyone has a superpower. Know the source of your strength; cultivate it, encourage it, share it, and use it to improve the world - doing that will attract awesome partners!

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